Down the memory lane: How Shajahanabad gave way to India’s seat of power New Delhi

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December 14, 2020 1:09 PM

there is a stark similarity in the design and structure of the Parliament House and Chausath Yogini Temple in Gwalior, Madhya Pradesh.

While Lutyens is often credited with building New Delhi, he was in fact most disdainful of India’s architectural traditions. (Photo source: IE)

King George V decided to make Delhi the new capital of British India and made an announcement regarding the same on December 12, 1911. The King also made it clear that the design of the public buildings should be erected after the greatest deliberation and care in order to make it worthy of the ancient city. British Raj could not have found a better place than Delhi for an overwhelming imperial structure. Delhi had served as a capital for various rules in the past and it was time to undergo a makeover in a way that is more suited to Indian needs with the art and architectural achievements of Britishers. The then Viceroy, Lord Hardinge was the strongest proponent of the idea of building an Indian-inspired architecture. He even wrote to Viceroy Lord Curzon saying that Indians must not feel that they have no say in the design. Architectural experts and prominent British Statesmen believe that shifting capital to Delhi will also provide them an opportunity to follow great predecessors like Akbar and Shah Jahan who established cities like Fatehpur Sikri and Shahjahanabad. EB Havell, the retired principal of the Calcutta School of Art, wrote that the move, the capital will leave shoddy imitations of European architecture and find itself in the ‘heart of Hindustan.’

In February 1913, members of both houses of the Parliament in Britain, along with prominent artists and scholars, wrote to India Office and asked for the employment of Indian craftsmen for building the new capital. According to a book written by Metcalf, the nationalist political climate in the country at that time made the move to have an Indic Delhi more appropriate. But there was some opposition too and the strongest one was from the architects Edwin Lutyens and Herbert Baker.

While Lutyens is often credited with building New Delhi, he was in fact most disdainful of India’s architectural traditions. He was a firm believer in the European form of architecture. However, his staunch stance was balanced by another architect Herbert Baker. Baker was in the town planning committee and famous for creating the Pretoria Union buildings in South Africa. Swinton Jacob, who had mastered the Indo-Saracenic style and had a long career in India, was appointed as the architect. Jacob had designed some prominent buildings like the St. Stephens College in Delhi along with the Canning and Medical colleges in Lucknow.

Hardinge hoped that he would ensure that New Delhi’s architecture has Indian features,” historian Swapna Liddle in her book. He frequently had a conflict with Lutyens over the use of ‘cupolas’ and ‘chhajja’ and finally resigned in 1913. Before doing that, he suggested that the involvement of Indian master builders will help in incorporating the spirit of India in British Delhi. But later it was decided that expert advice from Indians was not required.  A year later, the government releases a press release saying no particular style will be adopted, instead it would be adopted as per the requirement and Indian elements would serve as decoration.

Hardinge persuaded Lutyens and Baker to visit most of the cities of central and northern India to find inspiration from ancient and medieval architecture. ‘Chhatri, chhajja and jaali’ were the three characteristic features picked by Baker for the imperial capital. Also, Hardinge pitched for the inclusion of the four centered pointed Mughal arch. This is how the Viceroy’s house, which became the official home of the President of India after independence, assimilated Indian elements while expressing the ideals of the British empire. It beautifully highlighted Indian features like clustered chhattris, overhanging chhajja and the railing around the dome derived from the Sanchi stupa.

Moreover, there is a stark similarity in the design and structure of the Parliament House and Chausath Yogini Temple in Gwalior, Madhya Pradesh. However, there’s no proof whether they went to Gwalior to see the temple, but at the same time, it is not beyond belief that the temple might have served as an inspiration. Interestingly, the parliament was not part of the initial plan and was built to increase the participation of Indians in the government. Despite all the grandeur, scholars of modern Indian history often interpret it as the beginning of the end of British Rule.

Now a new Parliament building is all set to come up in an n area of 64,500 square metres. Prime Minister Narendra Modi recently laid the foundation stone of the building, which once completed will showcase the cultural diversity of India. The height of the new building will be the same as the old one so that both are in symmetry. To be built with the cost of Rs 861.90 crore, the building is expected to be completed 2022.

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